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A guideline for community planning in Nunavik

The Pinasuqatigiitsuta project is the joint effort of three Université Laval master’s degree candidates in urban design, urban planning and architecture. Through knowledge sharing and multidisciplinary approaches, combined with consultations in Kangiqsualujjuaq, the project identifies key sustainable and resilient planning principles adapted to the Inuit way of life.

These principles are the starting point of a proposed step-by-step guide to Inuit community planning based on local aspirations and opportunities. Illustrated with concrete examples of "doing things differently", this tool is potentially a complement to other master planning tools currently used for development and land use management in the Northern Villages of Nunavik. More consultations with and input from our Inuit partners are necessary to validate the usefulness, acceptability, feasibility and complementarity of this proposed guide.


Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik

(Trottier, 2020)

" A number of Arctic Indigenous populations perceive and record time as a cyclical process, usually reflecting the passing of the seasons in one year periods with limited consideration given to long-term futures, contrasting to Western understandings of time as linear[1] "


How is Pinasuqatigiitsuta relevant ?

The 14 Inuit communities of Northern Quebec are all facing three major and interrelated challenges : a housing crisis, a lack of culturally appropriate planning tools and the impacts of climate change. While these alarming issues are interdependent (see Figure 1), they require different, innovative solutions. This community planning guide proposes many such possible solutions that have been emerging from the Inuit people’s aspirations regarding the future of their living environment.


Fig. 1. Problem addressed by the project

The first challenge is a housing crisis which results from an important population increase over the past decades. The Kangiqsualujjuaq Background Report presented by KRG[2] shows different demographic and housing projections for the years to come (Figure 2 and Figure 3). What the data show is that, in the most conservative scenario, 62 new dwellings will be needed in Kangiqsualujjuaq by 2036. In the most alarming projection, this number goes up to 114. Since there are 200 units in the village in 2020, this represents a needed increase of more than 50%. 

These housing pressures are amplified by a lack of culturally appropriate planning tools. "In Inuit philosophies, for instance, it is seen as arrogant to assume you can predict the future and an overreliance on planning can be seen as reducing the ability to prepare and react flexibility to situations" (Bates, 2007). This means that the Inuit people and their representatives find it difficult to recognize themselves in the finality of current tools. Also, citizens perceive some dissociation among the planners, the builders and most importantly the community.


Fig. 2. Demographic projections for 2050

(KRG, 2015)


Fig. 3. Housing needs for 2050

(KRG, 2015)

The third challenge of climate change is not unique to the Northern territories, but it will most probably affect them more harshly than their Southern counterparts. This is indeed a global situation to which no place on Earth is invulnerable. In Nunavik, the impacts of those changes could affect seasons, ecosystems, precipitations and ice coverage, to only name a few (Figure 4).


Fig. 4. Impacts of climate change in the arctic

(source, année)

Those challenges are huge, but not insurmountable. By imagining an innovative, more culturally adapted planning method, reasonable and culturally acceptable solutions could be devised and put into place, not only for but also with the Inuit. This proposed new method is not seen as replacement for current masterplans (see an example for Kangiqsualujjuaq at Figure 5). Instead, this team hopes that this new tool can come in handy to complement and aid the existing methods to find solutions to the interconnected cultural, environmental and housing pressing matters.


Fig. 5. Kangiqsualujjuaq Masterplan 2016-2036

(KRG, 2015)


What is at the very core of Pinasuqatigiitsuta ?

In the face of climate threats and demographic pressures, what urban qualities effectively reflect Inuit practices, aspirations and knowledge to guide decision-making in planning the Northern Villages of Nunavik ?



Pinasuqatigiitsuta aims to illustrate the qualities and opportunities specific to the Inuit living environment through culturally appropriate planning principles and desirable scenarios for the village of Kangiqsualujjuaq, at different scales. It also aims to propose a guide to Inuit community planning complementing the currently used master planning tools.


To understand the vulnerabilities associated with climatic and demographic challenges and their possible impact on Inuit living environment


To identify the qualities and opportunities specific to the Inuit built environment


To produce an online easy-to-follow guide to Inuit community planning


To illustrate desirable futures and planning principles for renovation or development scenarios at three scales – village, neighborhood, home – that meet the challenges, opportunities and qualities identified



How did we get there ?

First, the team identified Kangiqsualujjuaq’s own opportunities and challenges arising from both climate change and housing imperatives. These informed a portrait based on a "SWOT" – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (see Figure 6). At the same time, the team conducted a review of literature and precedents to get a better understanding of the urban features that foster resilient and sustainable village design. The research also tackled various issues relating to the Northern and Inuit contexts, such as energy efficiency, cultural practices and governance organization. A complete mediagraphy of the consulted material is available

This helped identify planning principles and qualities appropriate for the Inuit culture and living environments. These were then validated on-site, through observations and discussions with residents during a week-long fieldtrip to Kangiqsualujjuaq at the end of February 2020 (Figure 7). Finally, local opportunities and challenges were confronted to qualities and principles to form a                                                               , the basis for a proposed guide structured as a process aiming for solutions.


Fig. 6. Methodological approach


Fig. 7. Informal meeting at COOP Store

(Bayle, 2020)


How is Pinasuqatigiitsuta innovative ? 

Masterplans are the result of functional land-use planning. They define areas reserved to certain uses such as residential or industrial zones. These tools also project the future developments in the villages by delimiting new construction areas. Currently, these new zones are determined with criteria mainly based on ground or permafrost stability. 


A masterplan, which comes with a zoning code, may be finite, precised and detailed in every possible way, yet it still only foresees standard uses (usually segregated) and offers very little flexibility with regard to unpredicted uses (Figure 8). The proposed guide is a decision-making tool based on planning principles and means of action informed by evidence, aspirations and collaboration. This guide is close to a quality-based code, as it foresees (and illustrates) different forms of uses (often mixed), while introducing a great deal of flexibility in the planning process. In fact, the guide could be used to adapt construction to every possible scenario decided by the community. In the context of the housing crisis and the impacts of climate change, such a tool would draw not only from planning and other environmental sciences (such as geomorphology), but also from collaborative urban design and architecture to fully and innovatively address the challenges. 


Sidestepping the relative "linearity" of traditional planning processes also allows planners and other invited consultants to immerse themselves into the Inuit culture and philosophies. In Northern Villages, time is not seen as a straight line linking a past action to a future one. Time, like seasons, is cyclical, punctuated with uncertainties, and must be accepted as such. According to Inuit notions, imagining a negative outcome can only reinforce its probability to actually happen. Everyone’s eyes must therefore always be fixed on the bright side.

Capture d’écran 2020-04-14 à 16.20.10.
Capture d’écran 2020-04-14 à 16.20.10.

Fig. 8. Scenario-planning 

(Brand, 1994)

" Inuit appear to accept uncertainty, and find great utility in an in-depth knowledge of the present, coupled with skills of improvisation that allow flexibility to respond to situations as they arise[3] " 

Sources cited on this page

[1] Ford, 2018

[2] Gerardin, Duchaine & KRG, 2015

[3] Bates, 2007, p.94

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